Prelude & Bossa Nova #2

"Alla Chitarra"

This composition is dedicated to one of the most meaningful people in my early years, my dear cousin José Luis Fernández. We were very close growing up and, among many things, he is probably one of the main reasons why I began to become infatuated with music making. He was always a very musical kid, the kind that had pretty hair and would wear it a little bit like Bob Dylan in his early days. He was the kind who played electric guitar and had a poster of Green Day, the Beatles and Nirvana hanging on his wall. He gave off a very “young musician” vibe. I will always remember all the long nights that we spent in his room where we would sing songs like Tears in Heaven, More than words and a variety of songs in Spanish like Ojalá by Silvio Rodriguez. Our biggest hit, however, was Blackbird by Paul McCartney and it is still to this day the only song I know how to play in guitar (let me tell you it isn’t easy!).

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He would eventually become interested in classical music when Esperanza Azteca, a Mexican version of Venezuela’s El Sistema came to our town and he replaced his guitar for a cello. I remember feeling almost betrayed that he would dare to replace that beautiful ebony guitar for a stinking cello, I felt that it marked the end of an era for us and it did. When I grew up myself and became a composer, I always remembered this complicated relationship between the cello and the guitar and one day, José Luis sparked my idea for the Prelude & Bossa. He came back one day really excited about his lesson at Esperanza Azteca with his teacher Rodrigo, a Brazilian guitarist. He said that he had shown them a few cool tricks on the cello and that wanted to show them to me. At this point I was still low-key unhappy about him leaving the guitar, but I listened. And then he said, “I am going to play this thing like a guitar” and he proceeded to play the opening chords of The Girl from Ipanema with nothing but pizzicato. He only played the first three chords of the song but the impact that this had on me was huge. With only three chords, I got transported back to those days in his room singing Blackbird and having a good time. I was deeply moved, and I decided that I would work with that in the future.

Fast-forward to 2018, my first year at Juilliard. I am an ambitious freshman in my first few days in school and I figure that it is the best time to meet future collaborators. Between laughter and jokes I hear a skinny dude talk about his upcoming graduation recital and how it will be nothing but commissions for his composer friends. This immediately catches my ear and I ask around who this man is. I eventually arrive at his name, Philip Sheegog and I ask all I can about him. I quickly find out that he is a bit of a legend at Juilliard for being the most active commissioner of new music. I approach him and I tell him that I am working on a solo piece that uses the cello like a guitar and after engaging in some chit-chat, he gives me his contact information. Big mistake. What followed where some of the most amazing rehearsals and collaborations that I’ve ever had and, after much work from both sides, we finalized the score around November of 2018. As you can tell, this is a composition that has been many years in the making and thanks to Philip’s enthusiasm, I believe it to be one of the best pieces I have ever written. The piece is now completed and has even received a second recording by Zlatomir Fung, the Tchaikovsky Competition’s Cello gold medalist of 2019. And everything started with a cello playing the opening chords of The Girl from Ipanema a couple of kids playing Blackbird. 

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The idea for this piece came to me one day when José Luis and I were fooling around with the cello. I gave him some instructions on what I wanted and he improvised on his instrument. I based the opening of the piece on this jam session.